This wild and wooly wheel is the Llanut, a ewe’s milk, geotrichum-rinded lactic cheese from cheesemaker Manel Marcé of Mas Marce Formatge de Pastor in Empordà, in the Catalonia region of Spain. The white cloud is in fact wool — and not penicillium candidum mold on steroids — and is more than just a gimmick. The cheese is actually aged in the wool, and the lanolin oils in the wool, as well as natural cultures trapped in the fibers, contribute to the final aroma and flavor of the cheese, as well as aiding in maintaining proper moisture levels around the wheel. All of Marcé’s cheeses are made with thistle rennet, common to Iberian cheeses.
Mas Marcé have made the preservation of heritage Catalonian sheep breeds part of their mission. Manel is the sixth generation of sheepherdersand grew up within the tradition of transhumance (the movement of animals and their human caretakers up into and down from the mountain pastures with the seasons), and the Llanut is made with the milk — and wool — of the endangered Ripoll sheep of the region. Production is seasonal, for 8 months of the year. Mas Marcé recently won a Forum Gastronomic award for this cheese.
This wheel of Llanut was incredibly soft and pillowy to the touch and had to be handled carefully to avoid tearing the delicate, wrinkled rind. The wool, packed around the wheel when it arrives, is tightly woven into the bottom of the wheel but pulls away from the sides with a little work. Getting the cheese to a slate-ready state takes a little more work and might involve picking wool from the rind, but it’s well worth the effort (kind of like picking the tiny bones out of a beautiful fish fillet). And really, if you eat a little wool, it won’t hurt anyone.
The aroma is, not surprisingly, wonderfully lanolin and sheepy (lanolin is the oil in wool that gives it its distinctive smell), but with milky and yeasty qualities as well. Cutting into this wheel reveals a liquid creamline that quickly puddles on the board, with a slightly firmer, but still custardy and velvety, center, almost triple-creme in texture. At this stage of ripeness I would actually recommend cutting the top off and scooping.
The flavor was buttery, barnyardy and rich, a bit nutty, but still relatively mild, with strong notes of the herbaceous scrub on which the sheep feed, wet hay and tangy notes. I detected only subtle bitterness from the thistle rennet, although being a lactic cheese the amount of coagulant used would have been minimal.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
Sola Val Casotto, from Formaggi Guffanti in the Val Casotto of Piedmont, Italy, gets its name from the word, in Piedmontese dialect, for the sole of the shoe, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the distinctive aromas which develop in the cave as it ages. Similar to the traditional Italian cheese Raschera, the Sola differs in that it is made with whole, mixed milk, from sheep and cow (and occasionally goat from what I could gather). The Italians are the masters of mixed milk cheeses, the many varieties of Robiola being perhaps the best example, and Sola is another cheese in this vein.
Formaggi Guffanti was founded in 1876, when Luigi Guffanti — great-grandfather to the current Guffanti-Fiori family owners — began seeking out a location to age his gorgonzola wheels. He purchased an abandoned silver mine in Valganna, and many of the cheeses have been aging there ever since, with the product line expanding over the years.
The Sola comes in a pudgy square format, with a stony, cracked gray exterior speckled with patches of bright yellow mold. Cutting into it reveals an ivory paste with scattered slits and eyes, oozing to a silky, elastic texture as it warms. The flavor is mild but complex, tangy, buttery, meaty, a bit sour, with a deep earthy, musty overtone. I’m not sure if these wheels in particular were aged in the silver mine tunnels, but it certainly has the aroma and flavor of deep caves and wet stone. This is a good cheese for someone just being introduced to this style of tomme, as the earthy and sour flavors are present without being challenging.
Headwaters Tomme comes from Ohio, and is fabricated by the Kokoborrego Cheese Company, the state’s first farmstead sheep’s milk cheesemaker. Their name derives from a combination of the Kokosing River and “borrego”, Spanish for sheep. The milk comes from their herd of East Friesian sheep and is supplemented with cow’s milk from neighboring farms. Owned and operated by Ben and Lisa Sippel, Ben is the dairy farmer, while Lisa divides her time between the farm and the make room, where she works with the head cheesemaker, Ben Baldwin.
Aged 3-4 Months, the Headwaters — named for the mouth of the Kokosing — has what Kokoborrego refers to as a “river of ash” running through the center of the golden, moderately eyed paste. The wheel has the traditional format of a sheep’s milk tomme, with a classic basket-mold pattern, pale amber with orange patches and a white dusting. Mild, salty and buttery, lightly tangy, a bit nutty and sharp and with lanolin and grassy hints, this is an easy-eating cheese and an excellent melter.
Hummingbird is a delicate disc of Robiola-style cheese from Doe Run Dairy in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Kristian Holbrook is the head cheesemaker at Doe Run Farm —his wife Haesel Charlesworth, manages the fruit and vegetable farming — but Doe Run is the passion project of Urban Outfitter’s founder Dick Haynes, who long had a desire to get into farming and saw an opportunity when the historic Doe Run farm came up for sale just as he was pulling back from the $2 Billion clothing business, first started as a single clothing shop in the 70’s, catering to Pittsburgh’s countercultural crowd. Doe Run is a sustainable, organic farm, with the cows, sheep and goats rotationally grazed on the 700 acres.
The creamery opened just a couple years ago, but the farm is much more than just a cheesemaking operation, with vegetables, horticultural gardens, massive greenhouses growing ornamental flowers, and more. You can read a detailed profile of Haynes and Doe Run at MainlineToday.com. Kristian has a culinary background, and is graduate of the New England Culinary Institute and a former chef at Green Seasons, outside of Pittsburgh.
Like many Robiolas, the Hummingbird is a mixed-milk cheese, made with Jersey cow and East Friesian ewe’s milk. Inspired by the likes of Robiola Bosina and Robiola Due Latte, the wheels are thin, only 3/4” high perhaps, with an elongated oval shape, akin to an oversized bay leaf. The rind is paper thin and pillowy to the touch, pinkish-orange with a white veil of mold and occasional tiny patches of blue. As soon as you cut it open, the ivory paste begins to ooze out of the thin rind, the interior molten at room temperature. The aroma is lightly fungal, with notes of wet hay.
In flavor the Hummingbird is buttery, unctuous and herbaceous, milky-sweet and with a nice salt balance, with subtle but distinct barnyard and lanolin notes on the finish.
I’m a big fan of Robiola’s, so discovering this American-made version is a pleasant surprise. (I probably shouldn’t share this, but you can see my own experiments with a Robiola recipe, which were…not exactly successful, so I appreciate it even more when it’s well-done, as with the Hummingbird).
U Bel Fiuritu, a semi-firm, washed-rind sheep’s milk cheese, is made by the Pierucci family of cheesemakers of Sarl Fromagerie Pierrucci, in the Casinca region of Corsica. Run by 4th-generation cheesemaker Michel Pierucci, the fromagerie collects the milk of as many as 80 farms in the region, transforming them into their line of cheeses, both traditional recipes and new interpretations of Corsican classics. I previously reviewed their A Casinca, a washed-rind goat’s milk cheese.
The name, U Bel Fiuritu, means “Small, Beautiful Flower”, and the ewes, grazing on the scrubby, redolent “Maquis” of the Corsican hillsides, imbue the milk with a wonderful herbal fragrance. The amber-red rind is frosted with patches of white mold, sticky and a bit gritty from regular washes during the 4-10 week aging. The paste is white in the center turning ivory towards the rind, scattered with small eyes.
The creamy, rich paste is complex in flavor, milky, herbaceous, sweet and nutty, sheepy and meaty and with a wonderful pungent bite and spice. This is a cheese that becomes exponentially stinkier the longer it ages: this wheel was near the sweet spot, still a bit firm at the center but ripening inwards, strong in aroma but well-balanced in flavor and with a mild finish.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
Pardou Ardi Gasna has an easily scrambled name (I kept remembering it as Asni Garda), but a memorable flavor. This Sheep’s milk Brebis hails from the Western Pyrenees of France, in Basque Country, and is made on a small farmstead and distributed by Fromagerie Pardou, Affineur in the Vallee d’Ossau in the town of Laruns. Pardou specializes in working with the small-scale cheesemakers of the region, who often are working with herds of just 20 or so sheep, often of rare heritage breeds of the region. The name, “Ardi Gasna” actually just means “sheep cheese” in Basque, the ancestral language of the Basque people, who inhabit the Basque Country, a region spanning an area in northeastern Spain and southwestern France. Basque is actually considered a “language isolate”, a descendant of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe and with no linguistic ties to the Romance languages that surround it on all sides.
This pressed cheese, coming in 10lb wheels, is similar in style to the classic sheep’s milk Ossau-Iraty. The golden rind encloses an ivory-yellow, firm, supple, slightly eyed paste with the oily sheen of a sheep’s milk cheese. The aroma is nutty and buttery, while the flavor is sweet, grassy and lanolin, with flavors of toasted butter, hazelnuts, caramel and hay and notes of wild herbs.
Purchased at Formaggio Essex.
Il Pastore, from Latteria Sociale Santadi, is a brown-waxed sheep’s milk cheese made in Santadi,a commune in Sardinia, Italy. The color of the wax evokes the old tradition, from the region, of packing a layer of clay and mud onto the wheels of cheese to protect them, in the days before wax was in ready supply. Made with raw sheep’s milk cheese and aged for at least 3 months, this pecorino is similar to Manchego and is an excellent substitute for the Spanish classic.
The brown, mottled rind peels back to reveal a firm, golden paste turning to light-caramel brown near the rind. The paste is dry, dense, a bit crumbly, with a light oily sheen. The flavor is salty, nutty and complex, with lanolin, gamey and smokey notes and just a bit of peppery bite.
On a whim, I used the Il Pastore in a 3-green Tart recipe ( spinach, chard and kale), mixed with Bulgarian Feta, which worked out beautifully, the Feta, with it’s fresh lipase bite, complimenting the aged Il Pastore nicely.
Purchased at Stinky Brooklyn.
Named for the wild pennyroyal mint flowers that carpet the meadows of their farm, Pennyroyal Farmstead is a fairly new cheesemaking operation, locating in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, California, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco, on the sixty acres of Navarro Winery. Sustainability is a high priority for the farm, with electricity supplied by solar panels, waste reclaimed for agricultural applications and an army of miniature sheep keeping the lawns mowed. The goats, in their daily foraging, wend their way through the vines and help keep the weeds at bay.
They’ve been a sheep farm for over 25 years, but the goats only arrived five years ago, and the cheesemaking began in earnest after that, with the first cheeses making it to market only in the spring of 2012. The cheesemaking is still small-scale, with the daily makes happening in a 50-gallon vat, working primarily with goat’s milk but also doing mixed-milk sheep and goat’s milk cheeses as seasonality permits.
I first heard about their cheeses when Kirstin Jackson raved about their Boont Corners cheese on her It’s Not You, It’s Brie blog. I contacted them to inquire about availability on the East Coast; the bad news was that they are not currently available on this side of the country, but the good news (for me) was that they were happy to send me a sample box to try their cheeses! California readers should keep an eye out for them (and see the end of this post for details about their Farm To Table mail order program).
The first cheese I tried was Laychee, a fresh cheese that is made with goat and sheep while the sheep are still milking, but goes to pure goat later on. This is a mild, bright, milky cheese, in the vein of a queso fresco or fromage blanc, with a creamy, lightly grainy texture and a wonderful cottage-cheesey flavor to it. This would make a great breakfast cheese, with fresh fruit or in a crepe, or as a bruschetta topper with honey.
The next cheese was the Bollie’s Mollies, a lactic bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese. The rind is the dusty blue-gray color of a Selles-Sur-Cher, but the cheese itself is firmer, a soft but not runny creamline surrounding a firm, fudgy center. This is a mild, salty cheese with a smooth mouthfeel, a little bit musty in aroma, with subtle goaty and grassy notes.
After that was the Boont Corners, which came in three varieties: Two-Month Tomme, Vintage Tomme (aged four to six months) and the Reserve Tomme, which is aged over six months, and in this case was a mixed-milk raw sheep and goat’s milk cheese (although I’m not sure if it’s always mixed milk). All three were aged in a thin paper layer that covers the rind to protect the interior and control moisture loss.
The Two-month had a stony, textured tan rind, and an ivory, moist paste, moderately eyed. The flavor was mild, milky and salty, a little bit tangy, with gamey and herbaceous notes.
The Vintage tomme, although in theory just an older Boont, had a different rind from the Two-month, smoother, with less irregularity and texture. The paste as well was smoother, with fewer eyes and a creamy, denser, dryer texture. The flavory was more developed and multilayered, a bit saltier, the tanginess of the two-month aged out, with wonderful subtle smokey and meaty notes and a mellow finish.
The Reserve Tomme, with the addition of Sheep’s milk, resembled a good pecorino, with a rind similar to the Two-month Boont but a paste that was golden colored, moderately eyed, and with a harder, dryer, crumbly texture, with trademark hints of buttery oil from the sheep’s milk. The flavor was salty, rich and nutty, with caramel, lanolin and grassy notes.
All of the cheeses I tried from Boont were great, with the Vintage Tomme being the real standout. Unfortunately, as noted, they’re not available on the East Coast, but Pennyroyal has a “Farm To Table” mail order program that you can subscribe to, which entitles you to a shipment of three seasonal cheeses, five times a year. Learn more at www.pennyroyalfarm.com/table/.
From the Cheese Notes kitchen: this weekend I made these Three-Green Tartlets with Bulgarian Feta and Il Pastore sheep’s milk cheese (an Italian pressed-curd that is similar to a Manchego). The greens were spinach, chard and kale,and the cheeses were blended with a simple egg/yogurt custard before being mixed with the greens, which had already been sautéed with onions and garlic, and a healthy grind of nutmeg, black pepper and salt. The crust is a simple pate brisée.
via Cheese Notes on Instagram.
The Ten Eyck, from Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia, New York, is made by Veronica Pedraza, a restaurant-world alumni and former Saxelby monger, who also put in time at Sweetgrass Dairy and the Cellars at Jasper Hill, before taking over the cheesemaking at Meadowood (one “W” in the name) Farms. Meadowood has a herd of East Friesian sheep, from which they make their cheese, dairy and lamb products. Their Rippleton, a washed-rind, sheep’s milk cheese, has attracted strong praise from mongers and restauranteurs alike and been featured on the menus of restaurants like Per Se. The cheeses are produced seasonally and in small quantities though, so they can be tough to locate, but the Rippleton should be arriving in cheese counters in late April; keep your eyes peeled.
the Ten Eyck, a raw sheep’s milk, Spanish-inspired pressed curd cheese has a dusty grey natural rind with a distinct ridged pattern. The paste is pale ivory-yellow, scattered with irregular eyes, and semi-firm, smooth and slightly springy in texture. In flavor the Ten Eyck is mild but complex, buttery, grassy and with hints of lanolin, herbs and nuts.
Purchased at Saxelby Cheesemongers.
Veronica was a guest on Cutting The Curd back in March of 2010 (Episode 22), when she was still working at Jasper Hill; give it a listen! If you’re interested in a life in cheesemaking she has great anecdotes and behind the scenes tips (and a few warnings, like: “cheesemaking is 75% cleaning, 15% record-keeping, and 10% cheesemaking”).
You can also check out Meadowood Farms’ YouTube Channel.